Selecting the Right Location
In spite of the famous real estate saying, choosing a place to practice involves much more than “location, location, location.” This holds true whether you are a new D.C. seeking a new city to live and practice or an experienced doctor looking for a different site within your community.
By thinking through the following issues, as appropriate for your individual situation, you will position your practice for future success.
Determine How You Want to Live and Practice
Your success depends largely upon your ability to set up the kind of practice that complements your personality, work habits and goals. Determine the answers to these questions before you seriously consider a location.
- What type of practice would I prefer? (Solo? Group? Multidisciplinary practice?)
- Where do I want to live?
- What types of patients do I want to see? (Adults? Children? Athletes?)
- What is my personal work style? (Am I at my best in the morning or evening hours?)
- How much time would I prefer to spend with each patient? (More time with each patient may mean the need to charge higher patient fees.)
- What factors might differentiate me from my peers? (For example, would it be an advantage or disadvantage for a sports chiropractic specialist to set up practice in a neighborhood with three other sports chiropractic D.C.s?)
Once you've answered the preceding questions, make a list of the areas in which you'd like to practice. Once you've identified a handful of locations, it's time to begin your demographic study.
Complete a Demographic Study
A demographic study is a compilation of the data that a person would use in developing a business plan and assessing the feasibility of a location. In the business world, such a study is a necessity—can you imagine McDonalds® building a franchise without first analyzing the neighborhood to help ascertain that the franchise will turn a profit?
Treat your prospective business with the same respect. Setting up a practice is a monumental effort that involves many complexities. It's certainly not worth your time if you're not diligent from the onset.
Find the Catchment Area of a Potential Location
The first step in performing a demographic study is determining what your catchment area would be. A catchment area is defined as the geographical area from which you draw your patients. Such designations can vary widely; if you're thinking of setting up shop in a New York high-rise, your catchment area could be as limited as your building. But if you want to practice in a small community in North Dakota, your catchment area could extend as far as 60 to 100 miles in all directions. How do you determine yours?
Start by simply looking around. Walk or drive through your neighborhood or community and take note of any chiropractic offices. Search the phone book or city directory and determine the distance from you of each D.C.’s listing you find. Make a comprehensive list, and keep it close at hand as you conduct the rest of your study.
Research Census Data
A solid demographic study should be able to yield census data not only about the community in which you have an interest in starting your practice, but about the community, county, and state as well. It should include the following:
Employers & Occupations
- Who are the area's major employers?
- Are they manufacturing-related, or non-manufacturing?
- What are the occupations and job titles relating to those employers?
- What is the average wage provided by that employer?
- Does the benefits package include chiropractic care?
- What kinds of transportation are available?
- Does the area offer public transportation?
- How far does the transportation reach—is it offered primarily to business hubs, such as the city's downtown area and industrial parks, or does it extend to suburbs and outlying areas as well?
- Would your potential office be along a transportation route, such as a bus line?
- What kind of government oversees the area—city government, township board, etc.?
- How many people does the local municipal government employ?
- In many cities, the local government is the largest employer. If that's the case, learn about the government's job titles, wages, and benefit plans.
- What kinds of community services does the local government offer?
- Are the schools regarded as high quality (an indication that the community is growing and thriving)?
- What about other community support—churches and other religious gathering places, community centers, and so on?
- What about the area's commitment to health care in general?
- How many hospitals are located there, and how many health professionals of all types practice in the area?
- Are medical doctors receptive to chiropractic and collaborative care?
- What is the community's attitude with regard to alternative health care?
Where Do I Find All That?
It may take a little detective work, but you can probably find what you're seeking on the Internet. Here are some suggestions:
- www.chamberofcommerce.com. This is a "drill down" site—one that asks you to enter very general information first, then information that is increasingly specific to the area you're trying to isolate. It also naturally leads you though a SWOT analysis. Once you've arrived at your virtual destination, the site will offer you links to specific sites for the area in which you're interested.
- School-district websites. Telephone the local high school or area education agency for the main address or refer to www.nsba.org, the web site of the National School Boards Association, which contains links to state school board associations, which in turn will provide links to local school district web sites. School district sites usually contain five-year and 10-year plans that outline growth projections for the community.
- Department of Economic Development web sites for each state. To find a specific address, go to a search engine, such as www.google.com, and type in, for example, "Iowa Department of Economic Development." The search engine will provide you with any web site with those words in its address. The first listing is often the one that will best serve you. Economic development web sites will usually link out to more specific sites as well, such as those of neighborhood associations, schools, real estate brokers, and so on.
- Revisit a search engine to type in any string of words relevant to your search. For example, typing the words "alternative health care" or "doctor of chiropractic" followed by the name of the community in which you have an interest will lead you to information on practitioners, clinics, and the like in that area. Such a search may even lead you to community attitudes toward certain disciplines or treatments.
Narrowing Your Choices with a SWOT Analysis
Once you've narrowed your choices to a handful of possibilities, it’s time to perform a SWOT analysis. Simply put, a SWOT analysis is an updated version of drawing a line down the center of a legal pad and listing "advantages" on one side and "disadvantages" on the other. As you perform your SWOT analysis, you'll decide how each prospective location stacks up according to these variables: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You can use a piece of paper, a computer program—any tool that will help you to evaluate your prospective locations according to the four categories.
Performing a successful SWOT analysis involves visiting the community long enough to assess the variables first-hand and to capture the "flavor" of the area. Remember—word of mouth from others won't be terribly helpful as part of a SWOT analysis, because you're assessing information in terms of your feelings and reactions toward it, and your ability to take action to use the information to your advantage.
Perform a Due Diligence
Due diligence is defined as "the process of investigation, performed by investors, into the details of a potential investment, such as examination of operations and management by the verification of material facts."
In your investigation of potential practice sites, the definition of due diligence can be expanded to include the amount of energy you put into assessing potential locations. For example, if you hear someone say a community has a “terrific” school district, you're not performing due diligence if you interpret that person's statement as fact. You are performing it, however, if you drive to the district office and ask to see the administration's 10-year plan. Another key component of due diligence is obtaining the most recent census figures from the Internet.
The general rule is: No third-party opinion can come close to being as relevant as your own investigation. Don't rely on hearsay. Go directly to the source to determine if a variable is true, and how it will affect your potential plans.